How To Choose Between Tethering and Hotspot

Breaking down the pros and cons of different mobile Wi-Fi technology
Easton Smith
Aug 18, 2023
bullet2 min read

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Tethering and hotspots are two ways to connect to the internet with a laptop, tablet, or other device that doesn’t have its own direct connection. Tethering and using a mobile hotspot are similar, but there are some important differences.

Tethering: This term is used when you connect one device that does have an internet connection (usually a smartphone) to a device that doesn’t have a connection. This can be done using Bluetooth, a USB cord, a Wi-Fi network, or other means.

Hotspots: A hotspot usually refers to a dedicated device that provides a mobile Wi-Fi network that one or more devices can connect to for internet access.

The lines between these terms can easily get blurred. People often talk about using “phones as hotspots.” Technically, what they are doing is tethering devices to their phone using Wi-Fi, which is different from having a dedicated hotspot device.

Now to decide which one is best for you.

What’s the best way to get mobile Wi-Fi?

Choosing between tethering vs. hotspots should be easy for most people. Here’s a quick primer on the pros and cons of each kind of mobile Wi-Fi.


Most people will be happy using their smartphone and their cell phone data plan to create a mobile Wi-Fi network. You may already be able to do this with your current device and plan.

Learn more about making a hotspot with Mint, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.

The benefits to tethering is that you don’t have to have an extra device or plan. You can easily sign up for a mobile plan that offers hotspot tethering for as little as $30 a month. Here are some of our favorite providers.

Best hotspot data plans

The downside to tethering with your smartphone is that it can drain your battery, make your phone slower, and hog up all of the data on your plan. If your lifestyle requires you to have constant mobile Wi-Fi connectivity, you might want to invest in a dedicated device.

Mobile hotspot devices

If you need constant mobile connectivity for work, school, or living that #influencer lifestyle, then you should probably get a dedicated hotspot device.

These devices are perfect for digital nomads because they provide mobile internet without draining the battery or data from your phone. They can connect to many devices at once and offer superfast speeds that work for gaming, streaming, and other activities.

There are great dedicated hotspot devices from a number of companies, but your choice will depend on what mobile network you want to use (different networks are stronger in certain areas). You can learn more about the best options and their connectivity in our Best Mobile Hotspot Devices of 2023 article.

The biggest downside to a dedicated hotspot device is that you end up paying for a new gadget and for a monthly data plan on top of your existing cell phone plan.

More tips for digital nomads

You may not need to rely on an expensive data plan or hotspot device to get high-speed internet on-the-go. There are many public and private places throughout the U.S. that offer free Wi-Fi, like McDonald’s, Barnes & Noble, and Walmart.

You can also get high-speed Wi-Fi internet when you’re flying if you choose the right airline.

What about mobile broadband chips?

There are other ways to get internet on-the-go, like broadband chips that you can put right into your computer and satellite internet options like StarLink. Learn more about these options in Tyler Abbot’s great digital nomad internet guide.

We’re always researching and writing about how to be a digital nomad on a shoestring budget, so be sure to check back for more tips soon!

Easton Smith
Written by
Easton Smith
Easton has worked as a freelance writer and researcher for several years, reviewing health, lifestyle, and technology products. He has probably read more Terms of Use contracts than any human alive. When he’s not sitting in front of a computer, Easton spends his time camping, climbing, and volunteering with humanitarian aid organizations.

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